Near the start of the year, a friend tweeted the article “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation.”
“This should be required reading for every millennial!” she said. I’m on the cusp of that generation, and I definitely relate to feeling burned out, so I read it. The article was compelling. And if the author’s conclusions are accurate, most millennials are functioning in some state of burnout — but we may not even be aware of it.
The article explores how the particular type of burnout adults in their 20s and 30s are experiencing isn’t a simple problem to fix. Going on vacation or spending a day at the spa won’t cure it, because it’s not a temporary ailment that only needs a few days of relaxation.
It’s the millennial condition. It’s our base temperature. It’s our background music. It’s the way things are. It’s our lives.
That realization recast my recent struggles: Why can’t I get this mundane stuff done? Because I’m burned out. Why am I burned out? Because I’ve internalized the idea that I should be working all the time. Why have I internalized that idea? Because everything and everyone in my life has reinforced it — explicitly and implicitly — since I was young. Life has always been hard, but many millennials are unequipped to deal with the particular ways in which it’s become hard for us.
All work and no rest
According to the author, the ways life has become hard center mainly around work and the link it has to our sense of value. Millennials struggle with myriad work issues, such as not having the right job, feeling the need to be accessible to an employer 24/7, balancing career and an exciting personal life, and struggling to pay off student loans. To top it all off, that balance we’re trying to achieve simply does not exist. Social media exacerbates the problem, as the author points out:
The social media feed — and Instagram in particular — is thus evidence of the fruits of hard, rewarding labor and the labor itself. The photos and videos that induce the most jealousy are those that suggest a perfect equilibrium (work hard, play hard!) has been reached. But of course, for most of us, it hasn’t. Posting on social media, after all, is a means of narrativizing our own lives: What we’re telling ourselves our lives are like. And when we don’t feel the satisfaction that we’ve been told we should receive from a good job that’s “fulfilling,” balanced with a personal life that’s equally so, the best way to convince yourself you’re feeling it is to illustrate it for others.
I know I have struggled with social media and striving for the “best of” my friends’ lives (and, let’s face it, strangers’ lives too). On top of the mental load of balancing my many actual responsibilities, I put additional pressure on myself to achieve what I see online. This flows into the issue of “self-branding,” where I think I have to craft my “brand,” or online image, around the clock in what I post online, instead of simply enjoying the experiences and interactions that come my way.
What’s the solution?
While the author clearly presents the problem in this article, she offers no solutions. She even states that she has no plan of action other than to just admit that she’s burned out and move forward. This solicits the question, “How?” If I am conditioned for burnout and living in a world that pushes me at every turn to overextend my time, money and other resources, what hope do I have to escape burnout?
As I thought more about it, I was convicted that, though I am certainly on the path to burnout, I have another choice. Two thousand years ago, Jesus gave the answer to the millennial burnout problem: Give up your laboring ways and exchange them for the way of Christ. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).
God has provided a better way for me; I can choose to resist burnout. I can choose to unplug more often and take life more slowly. I can draw boundaries around my work time. I can resist the urge to turn every sweet moment in life into a photo op or opportunity to self-brand. That may require me to say no — even to good things, such as opportunities, experiences or even friendships. But I think the trade-off is worth it — living the abundant, contented life God has for me.
Copyright 2019 Suzanne Gosselin. All rights reserved.